July 4, 2011
Monogamy, non-monogamy and the limits of marital boundaries have been hot topics in online discourse as of late. Spurred by more celebrity extra-marital affairs, or rather brought to the forefront of public discussion by these events, big names in relationships and sex such as Dan Savage and Stephanie Coontz have been making their opinions known. The Traveling Tickle Trunk supports all styles of healthy, consensual relationships that our clients find fulfilling. Many of our clients do maintain non-monogamous or ‘monogamish’, as Dan calls them, relationships and find them quite enjoyable; our consensual non-monogamy workshop continues to be one of our most popular.
I think that it’s clear that neither Schwarzenegger nor Weiner’s extra-martial affairs were issues of consensual non-monogamy. Both men had committed themselves to monogamous unions (at least is the eyes of the state and their chosen deity) and continued to have sexual relationships outside those unions while lying to their partners. Adultery in this sense is not consensual non-monogamy, because their partner’s were not consenting participants in this relationship style. Non-monogamy is an acknowledged and accepted desire to maintain more than one sexual and/or emotional relationship at one time. The consensual part means that all parties in a relationship acknowledge this desire and accept it, and make up their own relationship rules and boundaries to accommodate non-monogamy in a way that both are comfortable with.
Both Coontz and Savage acknowledge the historical basis for non-monogamy and the difficult pressures that romantic notions of love have placed on modern monogamy. Historically, marriage has been based on financial stability, procreation and strengthening family ties; in other words, heavily resource based. Extra-marital relationships, at least for men, were expected and accepted. In the 18th century, the idea that marriage ought to be based on romantic love flourished and remains as the ideal basis of western marriages today. Unfortunately romantic love is not a particularly stable force to base a marriage on. Financial stability is a constant need to exist in the world we live in whereas romantic love is unstable, fallible and fleeting. According to Dr. Helen Fisher, statistically speaking our initial attraction to our partner only lasts 18-24 months, after which time if your union isn’t based on some additional factors then monogamy may seem a lot less…attractive. Therefore, consensual non-monogamy is one option that, for some relationships, can offer honest and committed partners the option to explore other sexual and emotional relationships while still remaining committed to their current partner. It certainly isn’t for everyone, and its true that there are many couples who are able to live very happily within a completely monogamous relationship. But consensual non-monogamy may offer some couples the opportunity to explore comfortably without the broken trust and betrayal that infidelity brings.
If you would like to learn more about consensual non-monogamy, check out Sex at Dawn, Opening Up (also available in our store!) and attend our next non-monogamy workshop on August 21. If you register for $25 you can register a friend or partner for $15 (follow us on twitter to receive regular updates on new workshops)
Special Note: You can read Brenda’s latest column on Vue Weekly discussing her concerns with Alberta Health & Wellness’ new campaign against Syphilis here.